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Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The most-read stories of 2008

Clockwise from top left: A car in snow, Barack Obama, Russell Brand, a Mumbai attacker and closing down sales

A look back at the stories that proved the most popular of the year, from the serious to the quirky.

A few were momentous, some were tragic and many were uplifting, but all were read by thousands.


January was dominated by tragic tales and gales.

BBC children's presenter Mark Speight was quizzed by police over the death of his fiancee, Natasha Collins. She was found dead in his flat after an apparent drug overdose, leaving him "absolutely distraught" by his loss.

Attention turned to Britney Spears who was carried out of her home on a stretcher and taken into custody after police were called in a dispute involving her children.

And then there was the death of Heath Ledger. The Australian actor was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, prompting a global outpouring of emotion among his many fans.

Heath Ledger as The Joker
Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs

Just before leaving the show business theme, January was also the month when Jeremy Clarkson lost money after publishing his bank details in his newspaper column.

January was also a big weather month, with stories about flooding, snow and storms.

And the first signs of the coming recession started to become apparent.

The year's bizarre story offerings started with the incredible tale of allegations that twins adopted by separate families as babies had married without knowing they were brother and sister.


In February a number of our most-read stories were about the US election campaign, setting the scene for what was undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the year.

The ugly side of sport and politics took centre stage when Avram Grant received anti-Semitic death threats at Chelsea. Also in February, Manchester United clawed its way up Deloitte's Football Money League to second place behind Real Madrid.

Prince Harry's stint in Afghanistan came to an abrupt end after news of his secret deployment leaked out. He spent 10 weeks serving in Helmand Province, before flying back to the UK amid concerns for his safety when a news blackout deal over his tour of duty was broken by foreign media.

Prince Harry in Afghanistan
Prince Harry was rumbled in the media while on active service

Showbiz is never far from the headlines, and February is synonymous with Oscars. But you were more interested in who wore what than in who won what.

Also in February, a story about the Bank of England's rate-setting committee cutting interest rates to what now seems like a positively stratospheric 5.25% from 5.5% attracted a lot of interest amid signs of the slowdown in the UK economy.

No month is complete without its quirky favourite, and a tale of an Argentinean girl who gave birth to female triplets for the second time caught your eye. The girl had her first set of female triplets aged 15, having first given birth to a son when she was just 14.


March was money month with the budget, markets being rattled by worries about the banking system and Heather Mills' 24.3m divorce settlement with estranged husband Sir Paul McCartney.

A trader in the New York Stock Exchange
Worries about the banking system started to appear in March

A story that Mills gave evidence that was "inconsistent, inaccurate" and "less than candid" attracted more readers than one about her settlement.

Also much read was the tale of a small Cessna plane that crashed on a house in Kent, killing the two pilots and three passengers.

On a lighter note, the story about BBC Radio 4 news reader Charlotte Green suffering a fit giggles was very popular, and prompted a flurry of calls asking for the clip to be played again.

Staying with newsreaders, and the sad story of Carol Barnes taking seriously ill with a stroke generated interest and concern among readers. She died in hospital a few days later.


Some of the most-read stories were around the arrest of Karen Matthews over the disappearance of her daughter Shannon, the arrest of Shannon's stepfather on porn charges and the announcement that Karen Matthews would face trial on kidnap charges.

Also making news was the disturbing case of Josef Fritzl, the 73-year-old Austrian man who confessed to imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children. He also admitted burning the body of a baby that died at the house in Amstetten, Lower Austria.

Josef Fritzl
Josef Fritzl locked his daughter in a cellar for 24 years

Following on from January's stories about the death of actress Natasha Collins, her fiance Mark Speight was found dead after writing suicide notes.

April was true to form with showbiz stories being among the most-read. Perennial favourite Kylie Minogue attracted a lot of eyeballs by discussing the misdiagnosis of her breast cancer.

And the obligatory quirky story was supplied by Brazilian football star Ronaldo. He was alleged to have picked up three prostitutes, only to find they were in fact transvestites.


The most-read stories this month had a serious feel, with British politics dominating the agenda.

The poor showing by Labour in local elections prompted an admission from Gordon Brown that he was disappointed in the party's performance. David Cameron, on the other hand, hailed the end of the New Labour era.

Boris Johnson made headlines around the world by by becoming the London Mayor. Also adding to Labour's woes was a protest by truck drivers over the level of tax imposed on fuel.

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson became the Mayor London

May also saw violence, with Rangers fans rioting in Manchester and Harry Potter actor Rob Knox killed in a street fight in London.

Also well read in May was the jailing of Premier League footballer Joey Barton for assault and affray.

Then there was a tale of space travel, about a Nasa spacecraft sending back historic first pictures of an unexplored region of Mars.


Another month, another political row in the headlines. Tory MP David Davis resigned as an MP, promising to fight to regain his seat on a platform of defending "British liberties". There was much less interest in him winning his seat back .

The other dominant issue of the month - as far readers were concerned - was the quality of broadband services in Britain. A story that included a test to establish the speed of your broadband connection rated through the roof. As did the follow-up giving a breakdown of the results of all those speed tests.

Wayne Rooney and Colleen McLoughlin
Colleen McLoughlin became Mrs Wayne Rooney

The traditional, summer silly season struck early in June with a rash of unusual stories grabbing your attention. There was the story of a baby put up for auction in Germany, a man with 13 people in his Volvo car and the 50 management speak expressions you love to hate.

It was a month of mixed fortunes for footballers. Wayne Rooney got married, but Gazza was sectioned for a second time. Professional footballer Luke McCormick was arrested after two boys were killed in a crash on the M6 in Staffordshire.


July's most-read story appeared late in the month, when a huge fire destroyed the historic Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare.

The fire on the pier - picture by Penny Broomhall
The fire on the pier - picture by Penny Broomhall

A table we prepared on changes to car tax and how much they will cost you also proved exceptionally popular, along with its corresponding story that the changes will affect many millions.

There was a run of tragic stories in July about violent crime. A newly married British doctor was killed and her husband critically injured after they were shot in their Caribbean honeymoon hotel cottage.

And earlier in the month two French research students were found stabbed to death following a flat fire had been tied up and suffered what the police called horrific injuries.

But there was a lucky escape for several hundred people on board a Qantas 747 which made an emergency landing in the Philippines after a large hole appeared in its fuselage.

In offbeat news, back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin and his wife Anne were jailed for more than six years each for fraudulently claiming 250,000, and a teenager apparently found a bat asleep in her bra.


Most read this month was news that convicted paedophile Gary Glitter was ordered to sign the sex offenders' register after arriving back in the UK.

There was an undeniably sombre tone to the other stories that dominated the headlines: Many dead in Madrid plane crash,Big Brother star Goody has cancer and teenager shot dead in supermarket.

Then there was the fire that gutted the family home of millionaire businessman Christopher Foster in Shropshire. Police searched the burnt-out wreck of their home and eventually found the bodies of the family.

Yang Peiyi (L) had the perfect voice, but Lin Miaoke had the perfect face
Yang Peiyi (L) had the perfect voice, but Lin Miaoke had the perfect face

The Olympics also loomed large, notably the spectacular opening ceremony and the revelation that the star of the show mimed her way through her performance.

It was also the month that Barry George was found not guilty of murdering BBC television presenter Jill Dando outside her London home. He was first convicted in 2001 but an Old Bailey retrial was ordered after doubt was cast on the reliability of gunshot residue evidence.


Fears were high the world was going to end, with the start of the Big Bang experiment.

The Large Hadron Collider might not have caused the earth to disappear into a black hole, but there were definitely plenty of black holes elsewhere as the global economy started to unravel.

The Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider hasn't yet caused a black hole

Lehman Brothers bank filed for bankruptcy in the US, and in the UK HBOS entered into merger talks with Lloyds to prevent its collapse.

Banks were bailed out, but still their shares fell. Stamp duty was axed on houses below 175,000 in an effort to resuscitate the faltering property market. And there was stock market volatility amid the uncertainty.

Fuel prices were still high in September, which was blamed as a factor in the collapse of the airline XL, which left thousands of people stranded.

The high fuel prices also contributed to the utter chaos at a north London service station which gave away 20k of petrol in a publicity stunt.

Another major story was the case of a gunman who killed 10 people at a college in Finland before shooting himself.


The BBC hit the headlines this month, with the suspension of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand over a prank phone call.

And then the BBC apologised to actor Andrew Sachs for the "unacceptable and offensive" content of the calls made during a pre-recorded radio show.

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross
Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross sparked a row over taste and decency

Unsurprisingly the financial collapse which dominated the news in September continued in October, with a number of stories among the most read of the month.

Central banks cut interest rates, bank shares took a pounding, US stocks slid to a five year low and UK banks received a 37bn bailout.

The US election started to make its way back up the list of most read stories.

Also getting high-profile coverage was the jailing of death crash footballer Luke McCormick, concern over Kerry Katona's behaviour on television and a plane wreck found that was confirmed as that of adventurer Steve Fossett's.


This month was all about votes - Barack Obama winning the US Presidential election and John Sergeant quitting Strictly Come Dancing despite strong public support.

John Sergeant and  Kristina Rihanoff
John Sergeant's departure from Strictly caused a stir

The financial situation continued to attract attention, with the chancellor unveiling his public borrowing plans, UK interest rates being slashed to 3% and a blow-by-blow account of the Pre-Budget Report.

Also avidly read was the tragic unfolding of events in the Mumbai attacks.

As ever, a weather story was also very popular with icy conditions and snowfalls prompting many clicks.

And the maxim that sex sells was borne-out by the popularity of a story about model Karolina Kurkova and her missing belly button. Needless to say, it was illustrated with pictures of said model strutting the catwalk in her undies.

The year also drew to a close with a familiar theme - Jeremy Clarkson in trouble. Details of a joke he made about truck drivers murdering prostitutes did brisk business on the site.


With all the talk of recession and job losses, a story about a Glasgow family where no-one works struck a nerve. As did news that interest rates were being cut to a 57-year low.

Karen Matthews
Karen Matthews was convicted over the kidnap of her daughter Shannon

A bizarre and tragic story about a drink-driver who killed a father and son in a motorway crash while performing a sex act on himself attracted a lot of attention.

Odd stories about an actor cutting his throat on stage (he survived), and a young Chinese woman left partially deaf following a passionate kiss from her boyfriend proved very popular, and were e-mailed all over the world.

The conclusion of the Shannon Matthews saga drew a large number of readers, with her mother Karen being found guilty of kidnap.

And finally, a challenge we posed and which many of you rose to - could you pass the 11-plus exam?

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